I've checked out a bunch of new (to me) PAL/region 2 DVD's and a few Blu-rays from the UK. I will not pretend to compete with Gary Tooze over the DVD Beaver, who writes remarkable reviews and provides in-depth version comparisons. These are just a few quick notes on each, in no particular order:
NIGHT OF THE EAGLE (aka BURN WITCH BURN) (1962). B&W. 16x9 1.78.1. Mono. PAL, R2. After re-watching my burn of the Image laser disc for years, this is a revelation. Grain? Sure. Sharpness? Not like a tack, but sharp. Contrast: Excellent. No extras at all, not a trailer, not the Image laser commentary, not the dumb-as-nails Paul Frees introductory voice-over. But the movie is dynamite. Highly recommended.
QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (aka FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH). Color. 16x9, 1.85:1. Mono. PAL, R2. The old Anchor Bay disc was letterboxed but not anamorphic. This one (on the Optimum label) is infinitely better, with rich color saturation, sharp image, natural grain, good contrast. A trailer is included.
DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS. Long OOP in this country, and the old Anchor Bay release was only letterboxed. This one is Anamorphic, 2.35:1, Mono. PAL, R2. Optimum disc. Color is a bit desaturated (I long for restoration on some of Hammer's early stuff to get that Technicolor-like saturation back -- especially when ity comes to red!). Sharp enough, though.
TWINS OF EVIL. The final (and missing) chapter of the Hammer Karnstein trilogy, which MGM failed to give us during its Midnight Movies run. This is on the Network label. There are other versions out there that have garnered bad reviews. This one is a very nice 16x9 1.85:1 transfer. PAL, R2. It is sharp and colorful and apparently is the uncut version, although if you're expecting lots of female nudity, there's not much (you'll find much more in the first two of the series, LUST FOR A VAMPIRE and VAMPIRE LOVERS, which I think are both still available in the U.S.) Sole extra is a 57-minute documentary about Christopher Lee's film career.
THE JOURNEY OF NATTY GANN. Disney. Anamorphic, 2.35:1, Stereo. PAL, R2. Well, I've pulled my hair out ever since Disney basically flushed this lovely film down the toilet in the U.S., giving us a pan and scan, way-y-y over-grainy, washed-out mess. I knew the widescreen version was available from Europe but hadn't a PAL/NTSC converter. Now I do! Well, this is not a stellar transfer even though anamorphic. There are some aliasing and heavy grain issues, and an odd pattern throughout the image area visible in many shots when there is a lot of bright light (snow, sky). Nonetheless, a worthy investment (and a small one -- about ten bucks shipped!) for anyone who remembers this film fondly and want at least some improvement over the crap they released here. An early role for John Cusack. No extras.
WHITE FANG. Disney. 16x9, 1.85:1, Stereo. PAL, R2. Again, we in the States got the pan and scan treatment frrom Disney on this underrated adventure with Ethan Hawke and Klaus Maria Brandaur. Jed the wolf dog is back (from NATTY GANN) and Bart the bear gets a part, too. In truth, despite the anamorphic trreatment given the film in the UK, the DVD is not great. Like the NATTY GANN transfer (but even worse), this one has a pattern running across the whole picture area that you can see most of the time -- it looks like nothing if not dim, grayish snow or ash falling constantly. The color is fine, contrast, sharpness, etc. are good. It's hard to tell whether the grain looks natural because of that damn pattern. I never though I'd say this, but the pan and scan edition of this in the States is the better transfer. It loses information on the sides, but it's an otherwise fine-looking disc. No extras.
SHIPWRECKED. Disney. Anamorphic, 2.35:1, Stereo. PAL, R2. This was released in the U.S. as a club exclusive until recently, and it's another pan and scan disaster. The UK edition is excellent. Film-like, colorful, sharp. I was pleased to find it was directed by Nils Gaup, who made the astonishing 1988 Lapp language film PATHFINDER. Highly recommended. I can't wait until the Disney people stop treating their live-action comedies and adventures with such scorn. There are many fine ones in the vault.
SOPHIE'S CHOICE. Special Edition on the ITV label. 16x9, 1.85:1, PAL, R2. Oh, what an exponential improvement over the nasty Artisan letterbox DVD! The film has always looked diffused and color-weighted toward browns and greens, but is so much more pleasing now. And there's that delightfully-rendered line from Kevin Kline, "I was just hoping for a little lively conversation..."
THE JUNGLE BOOK (1942). Color. 1.33:1. Region-free, NTSC. I should have known from the label name... Sunflower...Anyway, the movie's in the P.D. in Europe just as it is here, and the same abysmal quality transfers abound. Horrible. No, unwatchable. I also ordered the same title on the Platinum Disc label, which comes with a free soothing nature something-or-other disc I haven't even watched. A tad sharper than the Sunflower version, but both bite hard. I am going to try a few other versions hoping to get something that looks as good as my laser transfer of the Hallmark/Image disdc - rich color, sharp, the best I've seen it look. Oh, Criterion....
THERE ARE MORE... I'LL POST AGAIN LATER